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Trio of Block Home Facades get Restored

posted in: Home and Garden
Before and after the 2020 restoration of my block unit.

My coop townhouse in Historic Greenbelt was covered with grey siding when I bought it in 2011, and I was fine with that. Until two things made me not-fine with it anymore.

  • I took a course at the University of Maryland called History of American Architecture, and as I wrote back then, it made me love the rare International Style architecture, especially the facade that was covered by siding.
  • I got hooked on adding color in my front garden, and wanted more!

And I admitted that the 30-plus-year-old siding looked pretty bad.

So in the summer of 2020 while researching ways to improve the appearance of my house I learned that I could just rip off the siding and paint the cinder blocks under it, as long as I chose a color in GHI’s list of approved ones. I mulled my choices, considered red but chose Wedgewood Blue because it’s the perfect backdrop to my garden, with mint green as the accent color.

(It’s called Lynchburg Green on the GHI website and no one knows what that looks like – and who wants to think about lynching when you’re just looking for paint? Some are asking that the town in Virginia be renamed.)

During the restoration of my block unit at 5 Ridge Road

 

Anyway, I hired Santos Alonzo and his company and the job went smoothly. The facade, which had been covered up since the 1980s, looked pretty good and didn’t need a lot of repair. I also left the siding on the rear facade (“garden side” in GHI-speak) because that side isn’t very visible. That saved me money and also whatever insulating value the old siding still has on that side, where the bedrooms are.

I started slowly adding the mint green trim, underlining windows and then covering house numbers and all the poles. I may still go all the way and paint the speed lines mint green, too. I looooove this color.

(For the plant-curious, in the photo above that’s a Crossvine strung on the wires and blooming in orange. Bignonia capreolata.)

With the painting done, the transformation began to get noticed, particularly by two other block-unit owners/new friends. One was a close neighbor – Sandy Irving.

Sandy Irving’s Middle Unit

Over at 3 Crescent Road, Sandy’s unit was not only covered with siding but had other embellishments – shutters, fancy metalwork, and dentil molding under the roofline. So with all that gone, what a difference! He also chose a fun color over the admittedly more historic white.

Sandy wrote:

I always liked the history and architecture of GHI, the way it has survived as the best preserved of the New Deal Green Towns. And I’d always admired the look of the original block units, with the brick trim and the simple porch lines. I thought about eventually moving to an unmodified unit, but I’d grown attached to the one I had — the layout, the location, the neighbors.

He added that he didn’t think restoration of the facade was an option until he saw mine and the Passchiers’ (below). But his proved to be a much more challenging project.

Close-up of nails found after the siding was removed, and a longer view of them.

The removal process was a bit nerve-wracking.  The siding, insulation, and stripping had been hammered onto the block walls with thick iron cut nails, and removing it caused many cosmetic chips, holes, and scars. I told people it looked like it had been shelled in a war zone, but they patched it up nicely before painting. We also redid the window flashing.

Brick speed lines had been knocked off (L) and were replaced (R) with thin bricks.

Another surprise was that the brick trim “speed lines” underneath had been roughly chiseled off. We applied “thin brick” caps to restore them on the front (“service side”). On the back, I left the broken trim (painted with the trim color) to save money, but also because it’s part of the home’s history.

The last touch was replacing the wrought-iron pillar and railings on the front porch with the original steel pole. GHI doesn’t stock them — so I ordered a custom “Lally column” online.  Hefty shipping charge!

Color-wise:

I love the traditional white-with-green-trim look, but I chose a bold color scheme, even if it’s not historically accurate, because it’s fun.  And easy to change.

 

Insulation-wise:

I hope I didn’t reduce the insulation value of the unit too much.  To improve energy efficiency, I opted for the HIP mini-split heat pump and removed the old AC in the front wall.

To Each Their Own:

I have no complaint about what my predecessors or others have done with their units.  I like that GHI members are free to express their individual tastes, within limits.  I’m quite pleased with how my remodeling has turned out.

Gregoor and Heather Passchiers’ End Unit

 

And a few blocks away at 1 Southway, Gregoor and Heather Passchier were having their end unit restored and a wonderful garden created, projects that Sandy and I followed closely. Fortunately, the underlying facade was in better shape than Sandy’s, and all went well. (Santos Alonzo’s company did all three projects.)

Gregoor wrote:

With our HIP improvements coming up in 2020, and the fact that the vinyl siding also needed to be replaced (it was cracked in several locations and we had about 4 bird nests in various places), we took the plunge to take off the siding and restore the unique International Style architecture and have been extremely happy with the results. We went from a bland white vinyl box to a home with a lot more color that highlighted the unique architecture of our New Deal (and National Landmark) community.

Garden-wise:

Following our facade work we then added a gravel patio and stone wall to our service side yard and removed a crazy hedge of privet, rose of sharon, and mulberry trees. The wall created a raised planting bed with native and edible plants. Last summer we had squash and pumpkin vines along the fence.

Interior-wise:

We’ve made inside improvements too, including kitchen and bathroom renovation and restoring our interior doors.  New flooring may be in our future.

Such an inviting and productive garden!

About Santos Alonso

We all had good experiences with Santos and his team, but their repair of Sandy’s badly damaged facade was especially impressive. Sandy says they were “pleasant, skilled, reasonable, and very flexible in working with me on creative solutions to unexpected issues.” Santos can be called or texted at 240/351-8982.

Follow Susan Harris:
“Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV.

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